Fabricators deemed as essential businesses have switched gears to manufacture PPE and additional items needed to help during the pandemic
By Megan Tsevelekos, Marketing Specialist at Mazak Optonics Corp.
Unprecedented times. A reoccurring phrase now ingrained in all Americans’ lives since March when stay-at-home executive orders were implemented across the United States. State-mandated shelter-in-place commands have certainly never been done in this era, until the COVID-19 pandemic. These unprecedented times have created a multitude of challenges in the world, especially for businesses.
While stay-at-home orders have limited operations of “nonessential” businesses, businesses deemed as “essential” are still up and running. With the goal to keep workers and customers safe, essential businesses are operating under the recommended social distancing guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
In order to keep everyone safe, there has been a rise in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE). However, finding PPE items has not been easy. Fabricators and manufacturing companies have recognized this issue and have restructured some operations to assist during these unprecedented times.
Mazak Optonics’ customers have joined the fight to help flatten the curve of COVID-19. These fabricators were deemed as essential businesses during stay-at-home executive orders and have been able to continue operations. In addition, these companies have initiated new projects, such as making essential items, to help during the pandemic. Learn more about these fabricators who are producing items to assist with the fight against COVID-19.
US Metal Crafters – Archdale, NC
US Metal Crafters is a one-stop fabrication shop, located in Archdale, North Carolina. The metal fabricator joined forces with the organization MIXXER Inc., a nonprofit workspace for local craftsmen to have access to high-end machinery and technology. John Zill, Production Manager at US Metal Crafters, is a member of this local makerspace and was approached by MIXXER to help with the production volume of making 3D printed bands for face masks. The team-up expanded manufacturing capabilities to produce PPE items regarding COVID-19.
Wearing face masks for long periods can be straining on one’s ears due to the tension from the elastic ear loops. Luckily, these 3D printed bands can reduce the strain on one’s ears by holding the ear loops together behind the head. These adjustable bands provide a more comfortable fit for anyone wearing a face mask.
After the bands were tested by local doctors and nurses, production was initiated. US Metal Crafters’ capabilities helped scale MIXXER’s production needs of the bands.
Meredith Barnes, Marketing Manager at US Metal Crafters mentions, “We wanted to help increase their production of the face mask bands. US Metal Crafters also owns a 3D printer, so we made the bands using the 3D printer in our facility along with MIXXER’s 3D printer.”
The two 3D printers allowed US Metal Crafters and MIXXER to produce over 500 mask bands in a month for this project. These bands were distributed to local healthcare facilities including Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Duke University Hospital for frontline workers to wear.
Besides producing PPE gear to help frontline workers, US Metal Crafters has also been approached to make hospital furniture. Barnes explains, “New work that has come through the shop is production of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) furniture. Parts that we are fabricating include recliner handles and metal frames for the furniture.” These metal components were cut using the fabricator’s OPTIPLEX CHAMPION FIBER and 8kW OPTIPLEX FIBER III Mazak lasers.
US Metal Crafters has been happy to assist during the pandemic and is prepared to continue its efforts. US Metal Crafters is recognized as a Thomas COVID-19 Response Supplier and has the capabilities to take on additional projects as demand for essential items increases amid the outbreak.
Manitowoc Tool & Manufacturing, LLC – Manitowoc, WI
The next fabricator assisting with the fight against COVID-19 is in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Manitowoc Tool and Manufacturing (MTM) is a job shop that provides services in metal stamping, tool and die, and metal fabrication. “We were deemed an essential operation since about 90 percent of our customer base contains essential businesses,” Max Ashenbrener, Direct Sales at MTM explains.
MTM was approached by their sister company, Manitowoc Tool & Machining, to team up and take on new projects to help during the pandemic. By combining capabilities, the duo has begun production of two PPE items; face shields and face masks.
The first project MTM worked on were face shields. Using a waterjet, MTM cut around 500 plastic face shields. After cutting operations, the plastic shields were turned over to the sister company to complete production. Ashenbrener explains, “Manitowoc Tool and Machining made the head gear component of the face shield. This gave us the flexibility to customize the way we cut the face shield component.”
The other PPE item MTM was able to produce was nosepieces for face masks. In order to make face masks more durable, MTM laser cut metal nose pieces that attached to the masks. Ashenbrener says, “We made the nose pieces so the masks could be more rugged and longer lasting.” MTM utilized their Mazak OPTIPLEX NEXUS 3015 FIBER laser to cut 5,000 metal nose pieces.
After assembly, the face shields and face masks were distributed to local hospitals and police departments.
Even though both projects have concluded, MTM says they are able to turn on production of these PPE items if demand were to increase again. Until then, it’s business as “usual” for the fabricator. “We have been fortunate to keep operations running and stay afloat during these odd times. There is some level or normalcy in production processes, but of course it looks slightly different now due to safety precautions,” mentions Ashenbrener.
IVI® Incorporated – Greenville, WI
The last fabricator helping the cause is IVI Incorporated, located in Greenville, Wisconsin. IVI Inc. designs, builds, and installs a variety of industrial systems such as ventilation systems, dust collectors, and material handling, just to name a few.
Being deemed an essential business allowed IVI Inc. to continue operations while having the capacity to add in a few new projects. IVI Inc. adjusted operations to produce portable medical units and metal nose pieces for face masks to help during the pandemic.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus, additional medical care is required. Portable medical units are a great solution for these circumstances. For example, these medical units can be used as testing centers and can provide additional space for patient care. A company who retrofits shipping containers approached IVI Inc. for a project collaboration to make portable medical units to assist with the additional care needed for the pandemic. Because of their metal fabrication capabilities, IVI was able to begin the manufacturing process for these medical units. Cody Fletcher, Process Improvement Specialist at IVI Inc. explains, “We used the Mazak laser to cut the walls, pieces for the doors, and floor panels for the unit. The floor panels were then welded in place.”
Fletcher continues, “It was not difficult to adjust our operations to create the portable medical units. The process is similar to what we normally do as far as our fabrication operations go.” These fabricated units are then passed to the next company to be transformed into medical units for frontline workers during the spread of COVID-19.
Like Manitowoc Tool and Manufacturing, IVI Inc. also fabricated metal nose pieces for face masks. Using their OPTIPLEX NEXUS 3015 FIBER laser, IVI Inc. cut about 5,000 pieces. Fletcher mentions, “While the nose pieces were new to our operations, our employees are skilled and had the capability to cut these since it’s essentially the same material we utilize for other projects.” Like the medical units, these nose pieces will also be turned over to another company to finish constructing the face masks.
Producing the medical units and nose pieces have been a collaboration among multiple companies contributing to the end product. These projects have been fulfilling for IVI Inc. as the company continue to sustain business operations during the pandemic. Fletcher says, “IVI Inc. has been happy to help, especially during times like these.”
Mazak Optonics Corp. – Elgin, IL
Employees of Mazak Optonics have also experimented with creating essential PPE items. Employees have been using their creativity to help keep our office and employees safe while continuing business operations.
Gary Goetz, Field Service Supervisor at Mazak Optonics, has created a solution to provide face masks for Mazak employees. Since Mazak was deemed an essential business, engineers have still been traveling to support laser-cutting customers. On top of this, in Illinois and multiple other states, facial coverings are required to be worn in public where keeping a distance of six-feet-apart is not feasible. This new requirement has been a challenge due to the PPE shortage, leaving Goetz to get creative to help keep employees safe.
Goetz owns a 3D printing machine and decided to put it to good use. “3D printing is something I’ve always liked doing. It’s new and exciting. Plus you can make some really cool things with it,” says Goetz. With the help of a fellow Mazak employee, Goetz was presented the idea to make 3D printed face masks for all Mazak employees.
These face masks help keep Mazak employees, and customers, safe when visiting customer job sites. Goetz says, “Right now, we are focusing on getting our employees equipped with the masks first. After that, we will keep making them as long as we need to and distribute the masks as needed.”
So far, Goetz has made more than 50 face masks. Goetz combined the manpower of his own personal 3D printer, with a 3D printer at the Mazak Technology Center in Elgin, IL to double mask production.
However, 3D printing can be a time-consuming process. Goetz explains, “We only make about four to five masks per day. It takes three to four hours to print each face mask.” After the masks have been printed, Goetz completes the product by adding in elastic loopholes for ears and hot gluing a rubber edge to create a seal for the masks.
Additional non-contact mechanisms have been created at Mazak Optonics to help keep employees safe. A door handle was another 3D printed non-contact item. Rather than using your hand to open a normal door handle, this mechanism allows you to open the door using just your forearm.
In the same company, Tyler Van Wyhe, Applications Engineer at Mazak Optonics, created a brass non-contact key to minimize touching exposed surfaces. The key can be used to open door handles and push buttons on a gas pump or a point-of-purchase keypad. This brass key was cut using Mazak laser technology. Learn more about the non-contact key and how to cut your own in this article.
Joining the cause
Looking to join the fight against COVID-19 like these fabricators? Before you adjust operations, first consider a few important factors that will help make the shift to these new projects a success.
First, having the proper equipment is needed in order to begin producing PPE items. Material composition will determine the proper fabrication equipment required for the project. For example, CO2 laser machines have the capability to cut plastic, acrylic, wood, etc. Even though CO2 lasers have the capabilities to cut some non-metallic materials, these applications can still be hazardous if the right measures are not taken. Before cutting any new materials on your laser machine, please contact Mazak’s applications team to confirm your laser-cutting applications.
Next, additional projects should not strain normal business operations. Make sure you have the capacity and resources to take on new projects while maintaining proper CDC guidelines. To help decide on what project to implement, reach out to local public health officials, hospitals, and police departments to find out what items are needed in your local area.
While these are trying times, fabricators are making the best of their resources and capabilities by helping make essential items to fight COVID-19. Together, but six-feet-apart, we can work together to assist with reducing infection rates and the journey back to normalcy.